Footwear and apparel behemoth gives sunglasses a run for its money.

By Jahla Seppanen

Walk around any city, gym or airport and you’ll see half the people wearing Nike shoes, but close to zero wearing their sunglasses.
While looking into leading eyewear brands for SGB’s Summer Eyewear feature, we got to think … how does a mammoth athletic brand like Nike tackle sunglasses?

Nike Vision — the side of Nike, Inc. that has been somewhat left in the dark compared to its footwear and apparel — might come out of the shadows this spring with the release of its new Running Collection, geared at the sport performance consumer.

Under the sub-company Nike Vision, parent Nike, Inc. licenses this accessory arm to Marchon Eyewear. Marchon, owned by vision insurance firm VSP Global, is home to a medley of high-fashion and sleek sports brands including Salvatore Ferragamo, Sean Jean, X Games, Karl Lagerfeld, various Calvin Klein lines and more. It’s also known for gaining the first contract to produce Google Glass.

So why does Nike outsource its sunglasses to Marchon? We contacted Steph Tripi, marketing director at Marchon and Nike Vision, for an explanation.

“Eyewear is a specialized product which requires a lot of experience around optics, fit, frame and design. Therefore, it only makes sense to work with the best in talent, knowhow and technology in the industry,” Tripi said.


Vaporwing Elite

For a brand that continually pushes the market forward in sports footwear and athletic apparel, it was in Nike, Inc.’s best interest to have an established eyewear company take the reins. Marchon has maintained exclusive design, production and worldwide distribution for Nike optical and sunglass collections since 1999, with the partnership renewed in June 2015.

But despite Nike Vision being backed by a big-name portfolio at Marchon, Nike sunglasses have been passed over by sports consumers who still devote their dollars primarily to Oakley, owned by sunglass giant Luxottica. SSI Data* shows for the trailing 52 weeks,

Oakley has dominated the Sport Performance sunglass category, holding the majority of dollar shares in the market. Nike’s first top seller in sunglasses isn’t necessarily failing, since the product is up in unit sales, but its average price is well below the average top seller (around $33 compared to around $140).

“Without divulging sales information, Nike Vision is a top-three sport eyewear brand,” said Tripi – a stat which was validated by SSI Data*. “Nike’s breadth, reach and appeal, along with it’s reputation for offering premium, quality product, has made Nike eyewear very successful.”

Nike sunglasses have made their biggest indent in the skateboarding, golf and lifestyle markets, but if we dissect the new spring Running Collection, we see its pairing of new technology and higher price points puts it in a sweet spot to directly compete with Oakley and other Eyeking brands like Under Armour for a higher place on the sport performance podium.

On April 1, the Running Collection comes out from the dark, with five endurance-inspired designs making up the line. Pricing ranges from $145 to $165 for the Bandit, Tailwind and Tailwind Swift, and $395 for the Vaporwing and Vaporwing Elite.

The Collection has been in development since 2014, when Nike Vision approached Zeiss to design a new mold from scratch. The goal: invent a never-before-seen concept for running eyewear while establishing an optically perfect mold.


Vaporwing Elite

“While we are always innovating to help the athletes see sport better, in terms of design, this collection represents advanced lens and frame design which was not achievable in the past with traditional methods of making in the eyewear industry,” Tripi said.

Nike Vision and Zeiss Lens Designer Steve Sprat got into the nitty-gritty explaining, “For decades the strict optical 0.09D standards for sunglasses have constrained designers to use only simple spheres and torics for the optical surfaces in their premium products… Zeiss has adapted advanced freeform design and manufacturing techniques developed for ophthalmic and precision optics to achieve 0.06D optical performance for general complex shaped surfaces.”

This extra freedom in mold was capitalized on by the creative team at Nike (Marchon) to simultaneously optimize the fit, aerodynamics, and aesthetics of their new line.

“This collection is just the beginning of a new era in eyewear design from Nike,” Tripi added. He also hinted that we should expect to see the sunglasses on the sports grand stage this summer (Olympic bound?). Nike Vision verified that Nike-sponsored athletes have signed on to rep the new shades.

But what’s bigger than who will be wearing the new Running Collection is how many will be wearing them. SGB expects to see Nike battle for a piece of Oakley and Eyeking sales as the competitive pricing on the new line makes its products more attractive. And although we won’t have the sale numbers on that performance for some time, we recommend keeping an eye on whether you see more Nike sunglasses on your next layover or run through the park.

*SSI Data, powered by SportsOneSource, collects and analyzes point-of-sale data from more than 20,000 retail doors across nine channels of distribution. To learn more call 303.997.7302.

Photos courtesy Nike Vision